Storage comes of age

The Middle East’s drive into the digital age means more companies are generating huge amount of data. Unfortunately, the legacy systems carried by many organisations are simply unable to either store or manage this information. As a result, the region’s storage industry is booming and users are seeking ever more advanced solutions.

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By  Maddy Reddy Published  June 3, 2004

|~|Daniel-Sazbon_IBM_inside.jpg|~|Daniel Sazbeon, IBM’s regional SAN manager. |~|The amount of information created by end users around the globe is growing exponentially each year. So much so that the University of California estimates that the world’s data has doubled in the last three years. It puts the total amount of information stored worldwide by the end of 2003 at over eight Exabytes, or 18 million terabytes. These huge volumes of data are being created for a number of reasons, including the increased automation of many businesses. This means nuggets of data that were once dealt with and then deleted now get stored away forever. Another key factor is the increasingly regulated environment within which companies have to operate. For example, in the US alone there are over 10,000 federal, state and local regulations ranging from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to Basel II. These laws regulate corporate behaviour and cover issues such as the retention of e-mail and data. AMR Research estimates that more than US$2.5 billion will be spent on storage relating to compliance alone this year, while the Enterprise Storage Group predicts that this will grow to US$6 billion by 2006. Although such regulations are yet to take hold in the Middle East, most large local companies have to achieve certain levels of compliance to operate. They also have to comply with local laws and government regulations. “Globally there are more than 22,000 regulations that apply to information. In the Middle East there are hundreds of regulations that will very soon apply to keep data active for a stipulated amounted of time. These regulations will drive the [need for] storage capacity,” says Daniel Sazbeon, IBM’s regional manager for storage area network (SAN) products. Ansel Fernandes, executive vice president of STME, agrees that the Middle East is about to enter a period of greater regulation. “The scenario will be changing with the WTO regulations and Basel II. Compliance is a major part of this and there’s a big demand for risk management. It’s just a matter of time,” he says. This predicted growth in compliance-linked data within in the Middle East is just one part of a much larger surge in information gathering. In the past, few companies have bothered to track transactions or gather customer data, for example. This is now changing as the local market becomes more competitive and companies need to know more about what they do, whom they do it for and how they can do it more profitably. To handle all of this data, wherever it comes from, Middle East companies need storage solutions. As such, the region is being seen as a potential goldmine for the IT industry’s leading storage vendors. Evidence of this comes from Network Appliance, which estimates that the combined SAN and network attached storage (NAS) market in the Middle East & North Africa market will be worth somewhere between US$150 and US$200 million this year. “The Middle East market is one that we recognise as having enormous growth potential. We view the region as an important emerging market and we’re deploying resources in the region to meet the very significant demand from local organisations,” adds Brian Moroney, general manager, for the Middle East, Mediterranean & Africa (MEMA) region at Hitachi Data Systems (HDS). While there is no denying the local storage industry’s growth, just which solutions Middle East end users are investing in remains unclear due to a lack of market data. Certainly there are enough technologies to choose from, with direct attached storage (DAS), NAS, SAN, content addressed storage (CAS), internet protocol based SANs (IP-SANs) and internet SCSI (ISCI) competing for market share. Currently, global figures from IDC have SAN topping the storage charts with 53% market share for last year. This is followed by NAS with a 29% market share and DAS, which accounted for 18% of storage purchases in 2003. Locally, each vendor is keen to suggest that its particular brand of storage is the best solution. Not only do they claim to be selling more than others, but also that their offerings are more applicable for the local market. For example, although Sun sells both SAN and NAS solutions, it believes the former is not mature enough to deliver on many Middle East users’ requirements and that they should, in the first instance, go for another type of storage technology. “A lot of the promises of SAN haven’t come to pass yet… because of the proprietary nature of most vendor offerings,” says Stefan Niemiec, manager for secure data management products at Sun Microsystems Middle East. Despite Sun’s stance, the reality is that most end users in the region need a mixture of storage solutions to address their increasingly complex needs. Furthermore, the decision to deploy a particular storage type should be based on specific requirements. For example, if an organisation requires a lower cost storage device for file-serving then NAS will suffice, but it will also need a SAN for the block sharing of databases as it demands high availability. “NAS and SAN are complementary, not competing technologies. Although there are specific apps that require only SAN, there are some apps that require only NAS. Most of the enterprises or mid-range customers [in the region] require both,” says Ashraf Helmy, storage product manager at HP Middle East. “Although SAN is dominating right now, medium and large enterprises need SAN, NAS and CAS. They cannot use only one technology to address their storage needs,” adds Mohammed Amin, regional manager for EMC Middle East. Network Appliance (Net Apps) has taken this argument one stage further with its fabric-attached storage (FAS) solutions, which are capable of handling both SAN and NAS functionality. “We believe there will be a drive into a unified storage platform, [going] by the huge traction in the enterprise… Customers need one box to connect to the storage environment with one administrative interface,” says Gavin Keeler, MENA regional manager at Network Appliance. ||**|||~|Ashraf_helmy_HP_inside.jpg|~|Ashraf Helmy, storage product manager at HP Middle East.|~|A preference for mixed storage environments is certainly catching on in the Middle East and a number of users are beginning to understand the benefits such set-ups provide. For example, Dubai Municipality uses both SAN and NAS to accommodate the data generated by 10,000 staff across 20 departments. “We have a SAN and we have a NAS. We use both because of our application requirements. The NAS is towards the file sharing services and the SAN is more towards the data disks,” says Abdullah Al Madani, head of operations & network services at Dubai Municipality. “With a NAS you give users access to back up their files, share folders and use office applications. For SAN, its largely for the database engine, and you need faster access and you don’t want the network interference. Also, in terms of backing up, a direct SAN backup is much faster and more reliable, which frees up the network bandwidth,” he explains. Telecom Egypt’s new call centre arm, Xceed, has also opted to create a mixed storage environment to ensure its database and customer relationship management (CRM) system deliver high levels of performance and allows it to execute both inbound and outbound services effectively for around eight million customers. However, rather than operate a SAN and NAS separately within the same environment, the company has deployed a unified storage architecture from Net Apps in an attempt to avoid the costs and complexity of multiple environments. Two Unix Solaris servers power the hybrid storage solution while Net Apps’ FAS system supports 26 Windows 2003-based servers in a fibre channel SAN configuration. In turn, this blends in with the NAS and SAN systems to create a platform for Xceed’s Oracle9i database with real application clusters and e-point CRM application. By standardising on a unified architecture Xceed obtained the high availability and scalability the company requires while ensuring the flexibility to support all of the company’s mission-critical data, regardless of the application. Administration processes have also been streamlined using centrally managed storage, making it unnecessary to expand the IT staff responsible for storage and minimising the overall cost of ownership. “The ability to dynamically scale storage volumes means we have ensured the call centre won’t incur downtime when the company needs to increase storage capacity. Data sharing eliminates the problems associated with silos of information and enables us to conserve data centre space and simplify capacity planning by deploying a single storage device,” explains Khaled Imbaby, data centre manager at Xceed. Although Xceed and Dubai Municipality have reined in their burgeoning amounts of data by deploying storage solutions, they will have to continually add to their environments to keep up with the amounts of new information generated. Dubai Municipality, for example, has had to scale its storage network from 3.3Tbytes to more than 8Tbytes on its SAN and 6Tbytes for its NAS within 40 months of the original solution going live. Such explosive information growth creates its own problems in terms of data management and this is where many vendors are focusing their attention. For example, Veritas is currently touting its utility-based storage concept while EMC is upping the ante around its information lifecycle management model. Computer Associates, Microsoft and others are also keen to play in the storage software space. What’s more, it appears as if this focus, combined with the growing needs of end users, is paying dividends as the storage software market recorded a 66.7% growth rate in 2003. The market is worth US$5 billion, according to Gartner Group. Even storage hardware vendors, such as HDS, Net Apps, StorageTek, IBM, EMC and HP are now eying the software side touting virtualisation, standardised file systems, storage provisioning to support heterogeneous storage environments. “There’s a growing interest in storage management as companies invest in more complicated storage hardware,” says Bjarne Rasmussen, vice president of technology services at Computer Associates Middle East (CA-ME). However, while storage software can certainly help end users once they have invested in and built their storage infrastructures, end users in the Middle East must learn to maximise the capacity within their existing set ups before investing in more hardware or advanced storage management applications. “The biggest problem is in areas within a business where multiple stove pipes of [storage] technology have been built. There is often no commonality and no structure and only 10% to 15% of total disk space is utilised,” says John Poulter, vice president of EMEA at Veritas. Laeeq Naqvi, CA-ME’s regional manager, agrees and says users have to plan their storage growth accurately; otherwise they will end up with environments that spiral out of control and grow in a similar fashion to their mountains of data. “Most storage needs are still done on guesswork and this is not accurate… This causes problems for the administrator and it will cost them [the end user] more because they have to keep purchasing high-end [storage systems],” he says. ||**||

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